“There’s No Starbucks Here?!”: Roman Coffee Culture

Julie Bourne is a student at University of Denver and an ISA Featured Blogger. Julie is currently studying abroad in Rome on a Fall 1 program.

Being a Seattle native, I spend a fair amount of time in coffee shops. I am completely content when I can order a light roast coffee and relax for hours on end with my laptop in a cozy local café. When I thought to do some pre-study abroad research on the coffee shop culture in Rome, I found myself feeling discouraged.

Un cappuccino at Nick Nowego Cafe

Sure, the coffee in Rome is world-renowned, with good reason! But the sad truth is that sitting by your self with a laptop while slow sipping a coffee is a rarity in Rome. It seems that most Italians prefer their caffeine intake to last only long enough to shoot back an espresso shot.

In coming to Rome, I made it a top priority to scout out some coffee spots and make my own judgments. I am happy to say that I have already had several successful coffee shop experiences, but there are certainly differences between the coffee culture in the States as compared to here in Rome…

  • I have yet to see a single disposable coffee cup in the entire city. Makes sense, since coffee to go seems like a ridiculous concept to most Italians.
  • Although many cafes in Rome are now connected to WiFi, it is still rare to see anyone working on a laptop. Not completely exiled, but definitely rare.
  • A drink can cost significantly more when it is consumed while sitting at a table. For the caffeine addicts who would rather just get the coffee and go, save money by drinking at the standing bar. But for café loungers like me, I see the extra cost as simply paying for a café’s nice ambiance.
  • Ordering a cappuccino is blasphemy after breakfast time.
  • Instead of paying before picking up the drink from the barista as we do in the States, Italians order their coffee, drink it, and pay right before leaving. They have a serious honor system when it comes to paying for drinks here.
  • If you order a “latte”, don’t be surprised when a glass of milk is delivered to your table. If you order a simple “café” or “coffee”, you will get a shot of pure espresso.
  • It takes a full year of training to qualify as a barista in Italy… enough said.
  • European hot chocolate is a magical thing that should absolutely not be missed. Best when served with a massive dollop of fresh “panna” (whipped cream).
  • Rome seems to have a way of turning nearly all people into coffee drinkers. Just yesterday, my roommate had her first legitimate coffee drink ever and mere hours later bluntly stated: “I want more coffee.” I don’t blame her.
My friend, Olivia, with her first caffe latte at Barnum Cafe!

4 thoughts

  1. I found this post while searching for articles about Italian coffee culture for an essay I’m writing (studying abroad for the year in Italy) and I just had to say that I’m so relieved there is someone else out there who was discouraged by the quick nature of Italian coffee! Totally agree that paying extra for the ambiance is completely worth it. Definitely a different culture, but a must-have experience for any coffee lover :)

  2. Great post! By the way, it’s written “caffè”, not “café” – that’s French.

Leave a Reply